Chinese academic cites CCP control of monks as source of unrest

On Thursday, March 11, 2010, in Recent, by Todd Stein

This article from Tuesday’s South China Morning Post (below) is worth noting. As my colleague Ben observes, it is highly unusual for someone on the faculty a major government think tank, at a major conference in Beijing, to challenge a key tenet of the strategy to co-opt Tibetan Buddhism. And it appears to undercut the highly promoted political coming out party for the government-appointed Panchen Lama (Gyaltsen Norbu).

It also suggests that the politicization of monks could have an effect opposite of what is intended: legitimizing the Party among Tibetan monks (and laypeople), as I discussed in my blog on Monday.

It is also interesting (and rather off-message) that this institute director, Hao Shiyuan, suggests that “Chinese authorities’ attempt to secularise the Tibetan monks had contributed to deadly protests in Tibetan areas two years ago.” It could be indicative of a ‘lesson learned’ from examinations of the causes of the spring 2008 uprising, which some have also drawn from the proceedings (known thus far) of the Fifth Tibet Work Forum.

PHOTO: Hao Shiyuan, Director of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences’ Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology

Adviser queries living Buddha appointments

Kristine Kwok Mar 09, 2010

A national political adviser has questioned the policy of appointing living Buddhas to the national advisory body, saying it would weaken his influence and credibility among the Tibetan lamas.

Hao Shiyuan , director of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences’ Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology, said Chinese authorities’ attempt to secularise the Tibetan monks had contributed to deadly protests in Tibetan areas two years ago.

Hao’s comments at the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference in Beijing on Sunday came after the 11th Panchen Lama was picked to become the youngest delegate to the top advisory body last week. There had been speculation that Gyaincain Norbu, 20, would become a CPPCC deputy chairman, a title equivalent to a state leader. The Panchen Lama, considered a living Buddha, is the second-highest figure in Tibetan Buddhism after the Dalai Lama.

It has long been a tradition for leading living Buddhas and other religious figureheads to join the CPPCC as part of the government’s strategy to tighten its grip on the influence of religions. But Hao said Tibetan monks would lose faith in the living Buddhas if they also worked in political groups and government-sponsored bodies such as the Buddhism Association of China.

“Now there is no living Buddha in a monastery because they are all in the CPPCC and in the Buddhism association,” Hao said. “The living Buddhas can’t go back to the monasteries because the lamas don’t trust them.”

Hao said the living Buddhas should play a bigger role in monasteries rather than in public life.

“Now the job of preaching in monasteries is in the hands of Buddhist scripture chanters, but the … youngest of them are only 20 years old,” Hao said.

China has been accused of watering down the influence of Tibetan Buddhism by luring Tibetans with pragmatic and mundane incentives. A key concern of the authorities is that the exiled Dalai Lama is still deeply revered in the region. Beijing has accused the Nobel Peace laureate of being a separatist who wants to make Tibet independent, which he denies.

Hao said an investigation he had conducted after the March 14, 2008, rioting found that many young Tibetan lamas in Lhasa’s six main monasteries were excessively influenced by “mundane attractions” and were distracted from their religious practices.

“Many old lamas complained that the younger ones don’t behave like lamas. You can find mundane things in their dormitory rooms, such as DVDs of Hollywood movies and satellite phones,” Hao said.

Yan Jinhai, Communist Party secretary of Haibei Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in Qinghai and a National People’s Congress representative, said promoting compulsory education could help to discourage teenagers and younger Tibetans from going to monasteries.

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